High court takes up challenge on gun possession case

In conference last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court chose to hear the case of two Maine men seeking to overturn gun convictions following domestic violence charges.

The case, Voisine v. U.S. focuses on lower court convictions of Stephen L. Voisine and William E. Armstrong for firearms possession after they had been convicted of simple assaults, and questions the court if a non-violent case of reckless behavior without intent qualifies as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under federal law, thus barring them from firearms possession.

In each man’s case, they were both convicted of assaulting domestic partners before police, responding to subsequent criminal complaints, found the men with firearms.

In Voisine’s case, he was convicted in 2004 of simple assault of a woman he was associated with, resulting in a $200 fine. Then, following a 2009 charge stemming from killing a bald eagle, picked up a weapons violation as he used a rifle in that incident to which federal prosecutors argued he was prohibited from having.

Armstrong, convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence assault under Maine law in 2008, for which he was sentenced to a year’s probation, was found with guns and ammunition when state police raided his house in 2010 on a drug warrant, resulting in his weapon charge.

U.S. District Courts then found the two men guilty of unlawful firearms possession in separate trials and handed down additional punishments to include a year in prison for Voisine and three years probation for Armstrong. The two men’s cases were combined in their appeal to the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As noted by the Portland Press Herald, Virginia Villa, the retired federal public defender helming the case for the two men argued then and maintains there is a different interpretation of Maine’s state law in respect to purposeful acts and accidental or reckless acts, when compared to federal law.

Villa contends other federal courts have ruled that reckless conduct is not held to the same degree that purposeful conduct is, while the First Circuit did not hold that to be the case for Voisine and Armstrong.

As such, Villa filed a 151-page petition with the Supreme Court in June asking for review after the First Circuit denied her request to hear the case en banc in March. On Oct.30 the high court approved Voisine on the merits of the recklessness question alone — and not on Second Amendment grounds, thus making it a the peculiar animal of a gun case with the question of gun rights themselves off the table.

Such peripheral gun rights cases have won review with the justices in recent years while others with the Second Amendment at their core, have been declined.

Voisine appears to support the sense many Court watchers have that the justices aren’t interested in taking another Second Amendment case,” UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler told Guns.com Monday.

 

“Voisine presented the Court with two questions, one of which was whether the Second Amendment was violated by a ban on gun possession by people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. The justices went out of their way to tell the lawyers in the case not to argue the Second Amendment at all,” said Winkler.

“Although the Court has left the standards under the Second Amendment unclear, the justices apparently aren’t all that interested in clarifying them — or expanding the scope of the Constitution’s protection for the right to keep and bear arms,” he said.

Voisine is expected to be argued in front of the court in early 2016.

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